CHESTER - It may not seem like a big responsibility, but it was the weight of the world off of Zack Czap's shoulders.
Well, maybe more of a weight off his right leg.
Lycoming's senior kicker was removed from kickoff duty for Saturday's game at Widener as Zach Fannin handled one-third of the kicking duties. In turn, Czap was as sharp as he's ever been in his career, Saturday, both kicking field goals and punting the football.
He went 3 for 3 on field goals, including a 44-yarder and a game-winning 33-yarder, and also averaged better than 38 yards per punt in Lycoming's 16-14 win over Widener. But it wasn't just the strong right leg which made the senior so effective in the win, it was how he utilized it.
The Warriors made a point to try and kick away - on both punts and kickoffs - from dangerous Widener returner Anthony Davis. Both Czap and Fannin executed the plan perfectly.
Czap's punts came with hang time, length and angle away from Davis. The Widener junior returned four punts yesterday for minus-8 yards, including a very costly fourth-quarter fumble which helped Lycoming milk extra time off the clock.
"It's different for everyone, but it tires me out a little bit more," Czap said of doing kickoffs. "Having my leg fresh for punts, especially on a week where you have a good returner like (Davis) and you have to keep the ball away from him, is important. It's tough to do all three and I'll be the first to tell anyone that."
Czap is a three-time All-MAC selection as a punter and a one-time first-team All-MAC kicker. But never in his career had he put together a game like he did Saturday.
He connected on three field goals for only the second time in his career, and he was nearly perfect punting the football. The only other time he's kicked three field goals in a game was in 2011 against King's.
And not only did he kick three field goals, but each one was crucial in the win. His 44-yarder in the first quarter was the second-longest of his career, behind only a 45-yarder against Stevenson in 2011. It couldn't have come against a more fitting opponent, either, as a year ago he missed two field goals in a five-point loss to Widener which cost the Warriors a MAC championship.
"A year ago, our kick game was part of our problem," Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said. "But today our kicking game and special teams won us the game. I'm really, really proud of (Czap). He had to live with that the last year. But everyone who lived with the horrors of last year's game gets to live with this now."
Czap is now 4 for 4 on field goals this year and has made nine consecutive kicks dating to last year. It's more of the kicker Clark and Lycoming expected after a sophomore season in which he was 12 of 14 on field goal attempts. He was just 7 of 12 last year.
The game-winner was a thing of beauty, splitting the uprights with plenty of distance and lift off his foot to not even have a threat of it being blocked.
"I just focus on making solid contact. The ball will go where it's going to go," Czap said. "If you try to aim it, it's not going to go where you want it to go."
Czap's punting and the coverage from Lycoming's special teams helped force Widener into long drives for much of the day. The Pride's average starting field position following a Czap punt was its own 27-yard line.
Only twice did Widener start outside of its own 30-yard line following a punt, and both of those drives resulted in Widener touchdowns.
"I'm always looking for big punts, but who isn't," Czap said. "But as far as directional, the main goal was just to keep it away from (Davis). It was important to kick it out of bounds or not let him have something to work with, and the coverage team did a great job."
"We're not apologizing for not kicking the ball to Anthony Davis," Clark said. "Listen, there's a difference between being tough and stupid. The kid was part of them beating us two year ago with a return and we weren't going to kick him the ball."